There are many stories of Irish cricket’s inadequacies pre-2007; stories of squads being left short on international tours, followed by frantic searches for anyone eligible in the locality (normally being a journalist for the Independent or Times). While a lot can happen in 10 years, no one desperately searching for anyone with an Irish passport pitch-side in 2005 could have even dreamt of the position Irish cricket would be in now.
Cricket has a bright start in Ireland; the most organised sport in Ireland before the end of the Victorian era, cricket suffered greatly with the rise of the GAA & the revitalisation of our native games. So strong was cricket at the founding of ‘An Cumann Lúthchleas Gael’ that the first meetings of the organisation revolved around whether it would include cricket due to its strength on the island & great resources. With the increasing popularity of Gaelic Football, Hurling & Camogie in 20th Century Ireland, cricket faced the most of the ‘garrison game’ accusations from patriots, and the game all-but died in Ireland.
Fast-forward to 2005: relatively out of shape barristers, teachers and various other professionals tog out for the amateur team. While the team always competed, it was anything but competitive. It was also anything but Irish, with most players being British & Australian ex-pats. Over the next two years, with the addition of South African coach Adrian Birrell, the team lost the more rotund members and focused on the more athletic members, leading to its first qualification for an international tournament: the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. Following a draw with fledgling Zimbabwe, Ireland recorded an infamous win against favourites Pakistan on Paddies Day, with would be later overshadowed by the suspicious death of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer. One would be safe to assume that that would be the greatest victory for the Irish, but it would be eclipsed 3 years later by an exciting win over perpetual rivals England, successfully chasing 327 runs with record-breaking century by ginger menace Kevin O’Brien. That one performance was evident of two things: the increasing skill of the players, and the increasing level of natural-born Irishmen in the squad.
But what now? Since 2010 Ireland have recorded infamous victories over famous foes. The ultimate goal, the next step, is to be permitted into the most exclusive club in international sport: Test cricket. To the uninitiated, cricket is split into three forms: T20, ODI and Test Cricket, with the main difference being the length of the games. Test cricket is the form you’re most likely thinking of, the games that last days upon days. And while that doesn’t suit everyone’s tastes, it represents so much more to the Irish players & fans. Test cricket is what we can’t ever be, what we rightfully should never be able to be: equal. And ground is continually being made towards that goal: Ireland now has several International-standard grounds, an ever-growing domestic game and great youth development around the island.
Almost more important than achieving the un-achievable, is the growth of the women’s game in Ireland. Essentially non-existent for decades, women’s teams were just not feasible for years, especially as the men’s game failed to make a foothold in a country still dominated by the GAA. However, in 2014 the Ireland Cricket team qualified for its first world cup. While the team failed to mark this occasion with an amazing win as the men’s team had done 7 years earlier, it was still an amazing achievement, especially considering the team included players as young as 15. The team qualified for the following year’s world cup, and continue to build on their strengths.
As with any great story, there is a villain in the rebirth of Irish cricket (and it isn’t the GAA). In response to Ireland’s successes, and with a feeling that there is no money in the Irish cricket scene, the ICC (cricket’s governing body) restricted the number of teams allowed to enter the world cup. While those efforts were initially rebuked, the ICC continues its crusade on a fair & exciting game. In response…the Irish team just keeps getting better. Not giving up, nor giving in, the men’s team continues its growth, playing 4 day games against teams like Papua New Guinea & the UAE. While the future is uncertain for both the men & women’s games in Ireland, this writer believes they will improve the game for both themselves, the fans and the rest of the world.